When I was 25, I was $80,000 in debt and working both a full-time job and 25 hours at Starbucks on nights and weekends just make a dent in my bills.
Despite a grueling schedule, I wasn’t satisfied with how quickly I was making progress. Which is why I also spent hours every week building this site — not only as a cathartic outlet during the difficult task of overhauling my finances, but also as a new stream of income.
Over the last nine years, the site has grown from a small source of additional income to a full-time, six-figure business.
This is why I advise readers to go out and find new ways to earn more money.
That can be as simple as picking up some odd jobs on the weekends. Or it could mean starting your own online business. Now, this site is about personal finance, not online entrepreneurship, but for those interested I’ve put together a cheat sheet of information to get you started with a blog or online business, if that interests you.
How Money Under 30 earns money
The above pointers are some basics, but I know most of you are most interested in how this site earns money, specifically.
There are three primary ways online businesses make money:
- Advertising and affiliate marketing
- Paid subscriptions or selling information products
- Selling physical products (e-commerce)
Money Under 30 uses the advertising and affiliate model.
You’ll notice Google AdSense ads in the sidebar and under posts, but these ads actually earn very little. This is why even large mainstream publishers with tens of millions of page views per month still struggle to stay in business — it’s hard to survive when advertisers pay you fractions of a penny per reader.
Fortunately, there is an advertising marketplace that makes it possible for small online publishers to make a living: It’s called affiliate marketing (also known as cost-per-action (CPA) advertising, performance marketing or lead generation).
With traditional online advertising, an advertiser pays a publisher per 1,000 page views or per click. With affiliate advertising, an advertiser only pays an affiliate publisher when it refers a paying customer. When this happens, however, the advertiser is happy to pay the publisher a much greater sum than for a single click because the advertiser just got a guaranteed sale.
Affiliate marketing works especially well for online businesses that are laser-focused on a particular niche. For example, I know entrepreneurs who run 6- and even 7-figure online businesses with niches like “swimming pool equipment” and “wedding linens”. If you can create content that people want to read on a very specific topic, you can find advertisers that are trying to sell products to those readers. And that’s the birth of an affiliate marketing relationship.
On Money Under 30, this works with products like savings accounts, stock brokers, credit cards, or mortgages.
With content that is directly discussing the situations in life when you would need these products, Money Under 30 creates a natural flow from reading content (our site) to taking action and opening an account (affiliate site).
Every time a reader signs up for one of these accounts, we might earn between $20 up to $100 or more. Multiply that by several hundred or several thousand referred readers a month, and you begin to see how you can (and we do) earn six figures blogging.
The upside to advertising is that you don’t have to do much other than put the ads on your site. The downside its that you need large amounts of targeted traffic to make any money.
This is why, if you’re starting a blog and visit any number of blogs on blogging, most of the gurus will offer up the same advice: “If you’re starting a blog to try to make money, quit right now.”
No, it’s not that we bloggers are trying to discourage competition. It’s because very few blogs ever do make money from advertising, and for those that do, it takes a long time. Possibly years. (It took over a year before Money Under 30 earned more than $100 a month, and that was back in 2007).
That said, I’ve made this model work, and it’s working very well for me. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from trying it; just understand that it may take a lot longer to see a return on your effort.
How to go about starting your own 6-figure blog
It’s gotten a bit harder to do than when I began (sorry), but there are new blogging success stories being written everyday. Here’s a very basic outline of how I would start if I were doing it all over again followed by some resources to help you learn more.
Step 1: Get an idea
The best ideas combine something you’re passionate about with something people need.
Taken a step further, if you’re going to charge for a product or service, the idea has to be something people will pay for.
Finally, on the Internet, the more specific your idea, the better.
You don’t have to write one hundred pages of a business plan (or even 10). But you should spend at least a little bit of time talking over ideas with friends or — even better — potential readers/customers. Ask questions like:
- “What are you struggling with?”
- “What’s your biggest obstacle in this area?”
- “If there were a product that could help you achieve X, would you buy it?”
Step 2: Set up your (online) shop
Some people might tell you to continue reading about starting an online business at this point. The problem is, 99 out of 100 people never get past this stage. It’s easy to read a dozen books or even invest $500 on a training program to start a business. It’s difficult to take steps towards achieving that goal.
I wholeheartedly advocate diving in head first and learning as you go.
Yes, you’ll fail. A lot.
Yes, whatever you create in the beginning will most likely suck. That’s how you’ll learn. My first few months of blog posts on Money Under 30 were TERRIBLE. I made every mistake in the book. But I learned and persisted.
Fortunately, setting up a website is incredibly easy (and inexpensive).
In the beginning, I used BlueHost for my WordPress hosting — an excellent choice for hosting a blog or small online business. Their all-in-one hosting plans contain everything you need to get started including scripts that will automatically set up the software you choose to run your business. If it’s just a blog your after, that would be WordPress. But you might use something else if, for example, you’re launching an online store.
Step 3: Create, Promote, Revise
The only thing that’s stayed constant in the nine years I’ve been publishing Money Under 30 is the domain name, moneyunder30.com. Everything else has evolved:
- The topics we’ve covered
- The site’s design and architecture
- The ways we’ve earned money
- Our ideal readers
The great thing about an online business is that you can change direction so easily. If something doesn’t work, you try something else. If something does work, you do more of it.
When you get an idea and launch a business, you’ll need to promote it — to your friends, on social media, and perhaps with paid advertising. When you achieve a meaningful number of visitors, then you can survey them — either formally or simply by emailing a few. That’s when you’ll start to figure out if they’re buying what you’re selling. If not, go back to the drawing board.
Where to learn more
If you Google “start an online business” or “earn money blogging”, you’ll be overwhelemed with results. There are thousands of blogs, books and courses out there that promise to teach you the secret to making a full-time business while lounging on the beach with your laptop.
Some of these sites are very good, although I will point out that many of them are earning their money by telling other people how to earn money. (This goes back to the harsh reality that 99 percent of people just consume information and don’t actually do anything).
A few sites that were either helpful to me or have caught my eye recently include:
If you’re serious about launching a profitable online business and want the very best, Ramit Sethi is, in my opinion, the authority on online business strategy. He sells two courses, that help students staring with nothing become successful entrepreneurs. They are:
- Earn1K On The Side: How to find a profitable business idea and start earning at least $1,000 a month on the side
- Zero-To-Launch: How to create and launch an online business that generates full-time profits
(Full disclosure: I’m an affiliate of Ramit’s company, but even if you never intend on buying course — and most of you won’t — the free info he sends his email list is worth the free signup any day).
Ramit’s courses cost $1,000 or more, but as his success stories show, they are quite effective in helping people start real businesses. You might not be ready to make that kind of investment, which is understandable, but it’s good to know they’re their for you when you’re ready.
In the meantime, I encourage you to simply start something. Getting a WordPress site with BlueHost is fast and relatively cheap. Start there and learn how to build a Website. You might find that it’s not for you and move on to something else. Or you might love it. From there, the sky’s the limit.
It’s not the easy road it might appear, but I’m living proof that it is possible to earn six figures blogging or with another online business. And clearly, if you can climb the mountain, the view is incredible. Good luck!